When temperatures eclipsed 100 degrees this summer, Mark Totten started to notice new folks settling in to read or work on their laptops at the La Cañada Flintridge library.
The library manager said he’s welcomed the sight, which, to him, signifies another way in which the local branch of the L.A. County Library system is cool.
“I’ve been here eight years, so I kind of know people,” he said. “And I saw about a dozen people or so who don’t normally come here, just sitting and reading or running their laptops. I learned they had lost power for a few hours, so they basically said, ‘This is a great place to use our Wi-Fi and keep cool.’”
And why not?
“You don’t have to buy anything here, but you can borrow a book or a DVD,” Totten said.
Kevin Morrissey, a local painting contractor, said he spends a lot of time at the library because he can’t work when it’s hot, including last Friday, when temperatures were in the 90s.
“On days like this, I can’t work because of the nature of the products I use, so I come to the library and read books,” said Morrissey, who is a big fan of John Sandford and Stephen King. “I love libraries. You’ll find a lot of old people in here who come not only for the cool temperatures but to touch base with what they’ve known their whole lives. They like the feel of a book.”
Operating as a cooling center hasn’t been the only factor driving increased library usage this summer, said Totten, pointing to the popularity of the children’s summer reading program and other community events.
“Sign-ups for the summer reading program have been phenomenal,” he said, noting that with an average of 150 participants, those events have outgrown the meeting room that holds a maximum of 120 people.
On July 17, the library set a record when 249 children showed up for the magic show with David Scale.
Kids are hardly an uncommon presence at the library, even on days where there isn’t a special event. As part of a new program called the “Library Card Challenge,” children’s librarian Sarah LaVerne visited every one of La Cañada Unified School District’s 3rd-grade classes to encourage those students to sign up for special library cards.
It wasn’t a difficult pitch, Totten said.
“We do not have to encourage the children here [in LCF] to read,” he said.
And if young readers manage to rack up late fees, which conceivably could discourage some of them from visiting the library going forward, there’s a program to keep them coming back. “The Great Read Away” allows young readers to “read off” their fines. All they have to do to reduce a fee is to sign in with a member of the library staff and then sit and read whatever they like. For each hour spent reading, $5 is removed from an account.
Totten also is pleased with the new “Tech Help Days” that run year-round and encourage healthy intergenerational engagement.
“These are really awesome,” he said. “C2 Education is partnering with us, providing the teens. And the teens sit with seniors one-on-one and tell them how their devices work.”
The program meets a designated need in the community, Totten said.
“We said, ‘Hmm, La Cañada Flintridge seniors who are relatively well-to-do, who have the latest devices but might not know how to use them, how can we help them?’” said Totten, who recalls instances when a teen and a senior will stick around after a session ends because they’re having such a good time conversing.
And, perhaps, because it’s cool at the library.